Mezz vs. orchestra: It’s the people around you

I settled into my seat at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in Manhattan on Saturday well in advance of the curtain’s rise. My wife and I were eager to see “God of Carnage,” which had received great reviews and featured a high-profile cast. For a change, we had seats in the mezzanine section – rather than our usual preference for orchestra. It wasn’t a big deal, and we were prepared to accept the greater distance from the stage. By the end of the show, however, we vowed never to sit in the mezzanine section again. The people around us made the difference.

I see it all the time, and I know I’m not alone. A busload of tourists stumbles onto the sidewalk and crowds around the theater‘s doors. Some push; others linger. Both fail to understand the concept of forming a line … or joining one that already exists. Or, a group of people who live a mere hour from the city spend six months planning their annual trip into the thrilling metropolis and can’t contain their excitement at being able to see an actual celebrity working. You are noticeable a mile away, and yes, you’re being judged.

So, if you are headed into Manhattan to enjoy a Broadway production, please heed the following advice. You’ll make the experience better for everyone. Most of it is common sense, but unfortunately, there are people out there who need a detailed list.

Don’t be loud; don’t linger
As I climbed the stairs, I was stuck in the middle of a crowd of nine people who made their annual trek from New Jersey into Manhattan to get a bit of “culcha [culture].” They screeched as they plodded about how they should be featured as the Real Housewives of New Jersey, poking each other about their respective shitty marriages. The conversation kept them from taking their seats efficiency, causing a logjam that stretched all the way back to the entrance. So, while we were treated to diatribes about their husbands, guests out of earshot were stuck in place without even knowing why.

Advice: Shut up, and get to your seat quickly. Talk when you’re settled in … and do so quietly.

Arrive on time
This seems as though it shouldn’t need to be said, and I’ve only rarely encountered it when sitting in the orchestra section. Yet, in mezzanine, it’s more common. A man arrived around five minutes after the production started, had trouble getting to his seat in the dark and tripped over my foot (okay, I’m not entirely innocent here). He was the punctual half, though. His companion arrived 15 minutes later and made an even bigger scene.

Advice: Do I have to spell it out? You know when the show starts: plan accordingly.

Don’t clap when the curtain comes up
Yes, when you see the likes of James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden on stage, it’s exciting. Your urge is to applaud, to slap your hands together as violently as possible. Meanwhile, what are James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden doing? They’re talking! And, we can’t hear them! Let the actors perform. That’s why they are on the damned stage.

Advice: If you just want to see celebrities, hang around outside the theater and wait for them to arrive or depart. Otherwise, watch and listen. That’s the whole reason you spent $70 a ticket.

Don’t talk during the show … duh
Again, does this really need to be explained? For some reason, the people down in the orchestra section have figured out that the actors do the talking; the audience does the listening. In the mezzanine section, however, the actors do the primary talking, and the spectators provide a running commentary. Guess what? Everyone knows that James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano. They don’t need to be reminded. And, it’s no better when you complain about the nine New Jersey housewives in front of you who have been talking through the entire play. Are you really any better?

Advice: Shut your mouth, and remember that the only people who should be talking are (a) paid to do so and (b) told what to say.

That’s all it takes – four simple rules. I know it seems unwelcoming of me to dump all this on you, but if you exercised even a shred of common sense this article would be unnecessary.

Now, if you live in New York – or did at one time – here’s the best advice of all: sit in the orchestra section. At the risk of being called a New York snob (as my wife and New York snob friends have done already), you’ll have a better time if you join the other New York snobs who … guess what? … are there to enjoy the production.

Going to Sesame Street: Manhattan moments

“Did you know that Kermit Love died?” I asked my brother two days ago. I called him when I read the news in The New York Times.

My brother was Kermit Love’s apprentice years ago, not long after my brother moved to Manhattan to attend the School of Visual Arts. Kermit Love, the creator of Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus, was also an artist in other venues.

Those were the days my brother and I sat out on the fire escape of the building where he sublet a room in someone’s apartment one summer. One night when I was visiting him, we climbed out the window with our dinner to watch a ballet class in session in a dance studio across the street. The studio’s windows were open so we could hear the music.

During that same visit, we dressed up in halfway decent clothes to head to Broadway about the time of intermission. In the summer back then, people spilled out onto the sidewalks for a smoke or something to drink. If the show wasn’t sold out, it was possible to mingle with the crowd and head back in for the second half. All one needed to do was wait at the back of the orchestra seating to find the empty spots. Such were the tricks of broke college students.

At first, while working for Kermit, my brother earned a small sum for ironing Big Bird’s feathers. Those feathers don’t look fluffy all by themselves. Because Big Bird travels in various shows, there’s more than one costume that needs refluffing.

Eventually, my brother graduated to larger, more complicated jobs. He and two other fellows reconstructed costumes based on Love’s design for a Picasso exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. As what happens with apprentices, they work behind the scenes without getting credit up front. It was cool to go to the exhibit, though, and see my brother’s handiwork. Not long after, my brother moved on. But, not before I got my trip to Sesame Street.

My brother needed to deliver something–not feathers, something else, but I can’t remember what. No matter. We went to the studio where the show was filmed. It has since changed locations to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.

Sesame Street looked like Sesame Street. Happy.

Carroll Spinney, the guy who has played Big Bird for years was standing around in his Big Bird legs. The top of the costume comes off in between takes, you see. It’s too hot to keep on.

Kermit Love smiled when I shook his hand. I’m sure we said, “Pleased to meet you”–or maybe not. It was a brief visit, but an awesome one that has stayed with me all these years. I connect Kermit Love to a time when my brother and I were younger and nervy enough to sneak into a Broadway show as if we belonged there.

Now, when I go to Broadway show, it’s with a ticket that I’ve bought at TKTS, the discount ticket booth near Times Square.

My brother didn’t know that Kermit Love had died and there was a wistful tone in his voice when he told me he may look to see if there is a memorial service. He is still in touch with a person who also knew Love back then.

As for visiting Sesame Street again, the studio doesn’t do tours. The Studio Cafe is open to the public, though. If you head there for lunch, look for a guy with stripped legs and bird feet. You’ll know who he is. Ask him who irons his feathers.

Waiting to the last minute can pay off: It’s called rush tickets

Although, it’s true that living the Girl Scout motto “Be Prepared” can pay off, flying through life by the seat of ones pants also has merit. Take yesterday, for example. Yesterday, I got the urge to see Avenue Q. The touring company is in town for a few days, and because I’ve been busy, getting tickets became shuffled to the background of my life. Then, about 3 p.m., I had to go. I must go, even if no one was going with me. I’d be nuts not to. At 4:45 p.m. I dashed into the CAPA ticket office to buy my ticket.

The guy behind the counter said, “Ya’ know. At 6:00, you can get a $25 ticket. There will be 20 rush tickets for sale.

At 5:30, after a trip to the library to pay off a fine for overdue books, there I was, first in line, at the Palace Theatre box office, By 6:10, I had two tickets. At that price, my husband agreed to go with me when I called to tell him about our good fortune. By 7:50 we were settled into our third- row orchestra seats on the right-hand side, much better and cheaper than the ones we would have had if I had planned ahead.

There are two morals of this story:

  1. If you get the urge to go to a performance, even if it’s last minute, don’t assume it’s too late–you might hit pay dirt.
  2. If you want to plan ahead, find out if there are rush tickets and how to get them.

Here is a link to tips on getting rush tickets for Broadway shows in New York City, and here’s a link to Talkin’ Broadway’s On the Boards that has ticket information including rush ticket policies and standing room only details. Standing room only is another last minute, cheaper ticket option. Here’s Avenue Q’s touring schedule. I highly recommend it, but it’s bawdy. Good natured, clever and terrific, but bawdy.